Cultivate: Caneberries

The other day a kid came in to my work with a t-shirt that said “I’m not lazy, I just really enjoy doing nothing.” Exactly! In fact, after so many reactions to my proud statement of “I’m lazy” being “oh, stop being so hard on yourself…you’re such a hard worker!” Well, when someone is paying you to do something, then it’s your job to do it, and being a sloth is not an option. It’s more of a lifestyle choice for your free time. The word gets a bad rap, and none of the other options like lackadaisical or the many synonyms that imply tiredness just don’t do it for me. I’m not tired,  just not ambitious at this moment. Or the next. And maybe even for the next 10,000 moments. In our fast paced world, languidness is something to apologize for, something for which nervous people with tapping nails will offer forgiveness you don’t need. Think I’ll start saying “I have a complicated relationship with effort.”

Why all this hoo-ha in a post about growing caneberries? Because as the years pass there will be some plants that will continue to delight you year after year, getting larger each spring. On a day like today when the garden is ratty and full of weeds, when the beds haven’t been watered in an alarming amount of time and the heat can no longer be used as an excuse to not prep for the Autumn, these perennials are favorite old friends. When my “relaxed” style has meant a meager harvest of a few half-dried tomatoes and some basil…those yearly visitors like the grapevine, herbs, nasturtium vines, and cane berries provide a structure to your garden and food on your plate with only some regular water and basic care. Learn about growing caneberries here! They include blackberries, boysenberries, loganberries, olallieberries, and raspberries.

When we began at the garden one of the original founders and a plant guru put in 4 rootstocks for us, 2 blackberry (grow in clusters and are smaller, darker, sweeter) and 2 boysenberry (singular, larger, softer, and lighter colored) and they have become the lovely L-shaped hedge featured in the header image above, behind the pink gladiolus. It gives a sense of shape to the plot and is always in a stage of either green abundance or woody starkness in the off season because while the plants are perennial the canes themselves will only last a couple years. They can be cut back and the rootstock will send out fresh green canes each year. To nerd out on berry facts check out the website of NARBA, the North American Raspberry & Blackberry Association.

Berries are little tasty gems that should be soaked and rinsed of their prickly styles and possibly worms (Don’t freak out! It’s perfectly normal, read There Are Worms in the Blackberries You Just Picked.) before being enjoyed in both sweet and savory dishes. Their sweet/tart profile means they can be pickled like in this recipe from Food & Wine. We can’t get enough of homemade berry sauce, of which there must be hundred of recipes and can be used as a jam, dessert sauce, pancake topping, crepe filling… my guy’s very informal method consists of getting a slurry in the food processor with a little water and squeeze of lemon, straining out the seeds (mash it with the back of a spoon in a colander to get all of it’s juices out) and heating up some sugar in a pan till bubbly, adding lots of honey and then the berry liquid. He cooks it until thickened but not too long unless you want a jelly-like consistency. If you need a more formal recipe here’s one from Real Housemoms. It skips my processing/straining steps so if you enjoy seeds in your teeth you can skip it too.

Sometimes a cookbook works so well with the your cooking style and preferred foods that it’s referred to over and over. Maybe you have prepared almost every recipe in it, or one recipe several times. For me and for desserts, that book is Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall. It’s packed with simple, easy treats that can be whipped up quickly but be aware they are NOT afraid of butter and sometimes the recipes aren’t as sweet as many people might be used to. I love this dense Blackberry Almond Cake but make it with vanilla instead of almond and use a springform pan. If all that came  from your garden today is a handful of berries this can be proudly presented with coffee or tea!